The Carnegie Foundation and The Elijah Interfaith Institute have announced that they are working on a historic friendship treaty between the world’s largest religions, intending to invite senior leaders from various world faiths—such as the Dalai Lama, the Pope, and the Grand Mufti—to The Hague in June 2020 to sign the historic declaration at a summit to be held at the Peace Palace.
The objective of the initiative is to counter hatred, division, and intolerance, and to enhance friendship, understanding, and collaboration between religious traditions. While most teachings emphasize friendship within, the declaration hopes to extend that to the religious other: “The idea is that spiritual world leaders will promote solidarity between religions. This is also in line with their religions,” commented Erik de Baedts, director of the Carnegie Foundation. “If the religious leaders declare that you can treat each other peacefully, we hope that people realize that you do not have to oppose each other on religious views at least.” (NLTimes.nl)
The Carnegie Foundation owns and manages the Peace Palace (Dutch: Vredespaleis), the seat of the International Court of Justice (the principal judicial body of the United Nations), the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), Hague Academy of International Law, and Peace Palace Library. The Carnegie Foundation was founded in 1904, when American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) donated US$1.5 million for the construction of the Peace Palace. The foundation originally administered the funds and managed the construction of the Peace Palace, but today the foundation organizes seminars, awards the Wateler Peace Prize, and hosts other initiatives that encourage dialogue and the study of peace.
An old photo of the Peace Palace in The Hague. From vredespaleis.nl
The Elijah Interfaith Institute is a non-profit, interfaith organization sponsored by UNESCO, founded in 1997 by Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein. The institute seeks to create bridges between faith and society by bringing together religious leaders, scholars, and practitioners from all faiths who are open to sharing the wisdom of their traditions with one another.
In addition to the Carnegie Foundation and the Elijah Interfaith Institute, various other organizations and countries have indicated that they would like to be involved in the initiative. A number of nations, for instance, have pledged funds for the organization of the historical summit. If all goes according to plan, the summit would be the first time that the religious leaders meet in such a historic and significant setting with the intent of signing a friendship treaty.
According to De Baedts, the organization of the summit is a huge undertaking but it is the drafting of the treaty that will the most complicated aspect of the initiative. It will be a delicate and complicated process, which will be supported by experts from the Elijah Interfaith Institute, VU university, the Carnegie Foundation, and others. All around the world, religious leaders from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities have responded positively to the initiative and extended their support.
The idea behind the friendship treaty came from advertiser Mark Woerde, who started the friendship initiative “Make Friends Across Religions.” As part as of this initiative, Woerde made a video message featuring 22 people from various faiths, and included personal statements by Pope Francis, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Dalai Lama, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, among others, calling for a friendship between religions. For his work on the video, he received the United Nations Peace Medal from the former secretary general Ban Ki-moon in South Korea last March.
Woerde noted that he is thankful that his initiative has been adopted by the Carnegie Foundation and the Elijah Interfaith Institute and is looking forward to the next stage of the initiative: "We are very honored to pass on the torch today to the Carnegie Foundation that owns the Peace Palace and the Elijah Interfaith Institute to take this initiative to the next level. I am thankful that last year’s video appeal could be the trailer of something bigger and more impactful than what I could foresee; the spiritual leaders invited to actually come together at the Peace Palace. It is my dream that we can all be one family and my hope is that our family name will be Compassion. Handing over the keys to new parties can make this dream come true.” (Peace Palace)
In addition to the summit and the friendship treaty, the initiative will also include a global campaign to promote support for the Declaration of Friendship, global consultations of religious leaders related to the Friendship Declaration and Summit, and the establishment of long term networks in key cities to implement the vision of the declaration.